Cult Q & A: Richard Dinnick

❉ Richard Dinnick, author of Doctor Who: Myths & Legends – “one of the most rewarding projects of my career”.

Richard Dinnick is a writer of TV, books and comics for the BBC, ITV and Disney writing on Thunderbirds Are Go, BBC’s BAFTA Award-winning Tree Fu Tom and BAFTA nominated Go Jetters amongst others. He also has several TV dramas in development.

He has written books and short stories for Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes and Stargate. Richard is now writing on Titan’s Doctor Who comic range and Legendary Entertainment is developing his first graphic novel.

His new Doctor Who book, Myths & Legends, was recently published by BBC Books. Myths & Legends is a collection of tales from the Whoniverse told in the style of classic Greek myths – and provides an answer to the old question of why the Vogans from Revenge of the Cybermen have the Seal of Rassilon plastered all over the shop!

Richard is also one of the writers of the forthcoming Doctor Who tie-in The Missy Chronicles, a collection of all-new stories featuring the Doctor’s favourite frenemy which you can pre-order from Amazon now.

‘Doctor Who: The Last Action Figure’ (San Diego ComicCon 2017 Exclusive)

What were you like at school?

We moved around quite a lot for one reason or another so I went to quite a few schools. Sometimes I didn’t go at all! When I did, I was introverted, creative, juvenile, diligent and shy. That was, until I was 17. Then I came out of my shell a bit. I was always writing though. Some directing of plays but mostly writing.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A police officer. A soldier. A spy. An astronaut. A wizard. But also a writer. In fact, I realised I could “be” all these things by being that one thing. It helped that Mum was a journalist who had become an English teacher, so I knew that “writing” was a job you could actually do.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

So much. I’d love to Quantum Leap into myself in certain situations and know that the world wouldn’t end if I did or didn’t do things differently.

But then I might not be where I am, married to whom I’m married to with the children that I have and the job that I do.

So maybe I wouldn’t say a word!

What are your best and worst qualities?

Best qualities: I am generally pretty open and friendly. I try to keep positive about what I do and who I do it with. I am still diligent. I work hard and I don’t give up. I try, try again.

Worst qualities: I can get into a negativity spiral. I get upset and angry at stupid things. I can also be lazy; the polar opposite of my diligent best quality. Fortunately the latter wins (in general). This is tied to prevarication. But nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I think it was either being a security guard or working as an insurance salesman. I worked nights as a security guard and that killed me. It was like jetlag with none of the fun travel bits. I just sat in a big factory, on my own with a torch and big set of keys and had to go on patrol about every hour from 7pm at night until 7am in the morning. Then I’d go home and just crawl into bed. I really feel for anyone who has to work nights.

I can’t remember why decided to get a job as an insurance salesman. But it was awful. No basic pay. All commission. And we had to ring up all our friends and try and sell them life insurance. I hate selling – unless it’s something I believe in. I am pretty good at selling myself or my works. But this? I think I packed it in after about a week or two – max!

Who were your heroes growing up?

My mum. She was a single parent in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Not easy. I didn’t have a male role model so I was heavily influenced by what I saw on TV. And Doctor Who resonated with me. I still liked The Six Million Dollar Man, Thunderbirds and Buck Rogers and a hundred other things but – other than Bond (which I adore to this day) – it was the Doctor who stayed with me.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

That is nigh-on impossible to answer. The single greatest? How do I narrow it down to just one? So many from when I was young to right now: I, Claudius, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Edge of Darkness, Hill Street Blues, The X-Files, Lost, House of Cards (UK and US). But, at the moment, I’m going to go with Game of Thrones.

Monty Python: Is it funny?

Right! Stop that! It’s SILLY. Very SILLY indeed! Started off as a nice little idea about old ladies attacking young men, but now it’s just got SILLY! His hair’s too long for a vicar, too, and you can tell those are not proper keep-left signs! CLEAR OUT, THE LOT OF YOU!

What was the last film that you watched?

In the Cinema? Atomic Blonde. At home? The Force Awakens (for the umpteenth time).

What film could you watch every day?

Are there actually people who can say: yep, that is my number one? That specific one, right there? If there are, I take my hat off to them. Me, I am far too “ooh, but think about that one or the benefits of this one”! What I can do is tell the films I have watched the most (in no particular order, as they say on reality TV): Sideways, Brazil, Star Wars (all of ‘em), Shakespeare in Love, The Matrix, Pitch Perfect, The Godfather (all of ‘em), When Harry Met Sally, Guardians of the Galaxy (both of ‘em), La La Land, Lord of the Rings (all of ‘em), Jerry Maguire, Spirited Away, Back to the Future (all of ‘em), Shrek (all of ‘em, apart from 3), Batman Begins and, of course, Bond (yes, all of ‘em. Yes even Moonraker. Love Moonraker). I’m a bit eclectic…

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

Again? One? OK. I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks when I’m working. It depends on what I’m trying to write, but the ones I adore are Back to the Future, Pirates of the Caribbean, Casino Royale, Gladiator, Brazil, Star Wars (esp Duel of the fates from The Phantom Menace) and La La Land.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

These don’t get any easier, do they? OK: David Niven, Tom Cruise, John Boyega, Rosamund Pike. I’d love a feelgood slice-of-life type movie like As Good as it Gets or even an action adventure movie in the vein of Indiana Jones.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

I really find this hard as I hate to criticise. I awlays say “No one sets out to make something rubbish!”

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

Record? Which era is this question from? I’ll take that to mean an album and not the “how many beans can you get into your mouth with a toothpick in one minute” type record… I would always go for Pulp’s Common People. I think it’s about the most perfect album ever. And Britpop was my peak music era.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

My Depeche Mode albums.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

You mean which bookshelf, don’t you?

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Something becomes cult when it has s small band of passionate followers (who often have been given or have given themselves a title).

What are you reading at present?

Conclave by Robert Harris.

What has your journey as a writer been like? How did you get started?

Hell and heaven. A roller-coaster doesn’t quite describe the soul-destroying nature of the lows nor the drug-like highs that last for such a fleeting moment. This life is not for the faint-hearted.

I started young. I wrote stories about our cats. I had with action figures. I painted them to create my own characters and played out stories with them. Quite often Doctor Who and Star Wars meshed and there was probably a romance in there somewhere, too!

My first break came at school when I did work experience on a local paper aged 17. I got my first by-line and was kind of hooked. It took me ten years and some meandering through the army and a host of other jobs from the aforementioned security work and insurance salesman via a lot of retail (which I really enjoyed) and a trip to university as the most immature mature student before I got my second.

My first published fiction was almost another decade (and a lot of by-lines!) later for Big Finish in 2005. The legendary Gary Russell commissioned me to write a short story for the Doctor Who anthology, Solar System. A year later I wrote my first audio drama script thanks to lovely and very supportive John Ainsworth. I owe those two guys a lot. Then to the rather splendid Nigel Fairs who commissioned my first Big Finish audio for the Sapphire and Steel range. In 2011 my first prose book – The Underwater War – came out.

Which other writers have inspired you over the years?

I think I first became aware of writers of books. So I have been heavily influenced by the likes of Gavin Lyall, Ted Allbeury, John Le Carre, Philip K Dick and Gordon R Dickson. Other than on Doctor Who, it wasn’t until I was at least 20 that I took notice of the names of people when it said “written by”. So Terrance Dicks, Terry Nation, Gerry Davis, Robert Holmes and Malcolm Hulke are all up there alongside the modern versions: Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, Phil Ford, Toby Whithouse and Chris Chibnall. But they stand alongside Richard Curtis, Aaron Sorkin, Lynda La Plante, JJ Abrams, Christine Boylan, Carlton Cuse, Sally Wainright, Armando Iannucci, Noel Clarke, John Wells, Sarah Phelps, Jane Espnson, Kay Mellor, Brannon Braga, Damon Lindelof, and so many, many others – I’m just typing them as I remember their names. It’s like a roll of honour. And I would love one day to take my place among them if I can.

But, above all, Michael Palin. He’s been a hero of mine since I was very small – mainly for his writing – but also for his comedy, acting, presenting and all round, decent human beingness. I cannot recommend his diaries highly enough, I love them and draw inspiration from them.

You’ve got a range of credits within the Doctor Who universe – not least your current role as lead writer for Titan Comics’ Twelfth Doctor range – so what’s it like to be let loose in the toybox?

It is nothing short of a dream come true. Literally. I used to dream of doing this. To write for the current Doctor in any medium is always a privilege and not everyone has that chance – hence the word privilege! But with this great power comes – you’ve guessed it – great responsibility. Yes, you love the character but you need to present him (now her. Don’t you love that? I do!) as others expect to find the character.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

Phil Ford. He was the first person who said to me about a first draft: “Don’t get it right – get it written!” And there is no better advice no matter if you’re writing for screen or page or ear!

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?

My wife. Undoubtedly. Clare has been my support network, my idea bouncer, my proof-reader, my script editor, my shoulder to cry on, my best and most trusted counsellor, my motivator. She has allowed me time away from family to take trips to the US to further my career. She has sacrificed when work was not been as plentiful as it should have been and belts needed to be tightened. She has changed my life in so many millions of ways I cannot even start – and all for the better. Without her, Id be a complete loser; a wastrel on the kerb of fulfilled potential.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

Not at all. I met my mum at least once… And she was fine! Seriously, I’ve never been disappointed because I know that my heroes are human beings. And if a writer doesn’t know that everyone is flawed, what chance does he or she have of writing good characters? Of course, I always hope they’ll be nice and in every case I’ve been blown away. Every case.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

I’ve always loved Blackadder’s: “Here lies Edmund Blackadder and he’s bloody annoyed!” but I would hope that I have touched peoples’ lives in a positive way: entertained them, enlightened them even. I’d settle for: “OK husband. Good father. Jobbing writer.”

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

Whisky. Single Malt. Or Bourbon.

What are your three favourite cities?

London is my hometown. New York I fell in love with. LA is like my Mecca – as in Holy City not as in Bingo.

What do you do to chill out?

I play the X-Box and go for walks. I watch TV and films.

Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?

Crikey. No! Keep all the skeletons firmly locked in that closet!

What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

The top one is being able to dedicate some of it to the people I love. And, of course, I will never tire of seeing my name on a shelf or a TV screen! That NEVER gets old.

What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?

I think two things. One is my own creation that I can’t talk about yet as it hasn’t been announced (but watch this space, it’s imminent)! And that’s because it’s mine: the story the characters, the arcs. I love it.

The other is my Doctor Who: Myths & Legends book. Which I shall tell you about below…

Your latest book is Doctor Who: Myths & Legends, recently published by BBC Books. How did you approach it?

It’s been great fun. It’s fourteen stories from across the spectrum of Doctor Who, taking in a dozen of the show’s more famous creations from Time Lords to Osirans and Daleks to Jagaroth. I had the whole toybox to play with. But that is only half the story (ho-ho). The reason it has been one of the most rewarding of my career is that I got to really dig deep and create characters that the reader can hopefully get attached to, go on a journey with and be affected by.

What are you working on at the moment? Can we expect more Thunderbirds?

If I told you, never mind you – I would have to be killed! There’s a lot in the pipeline. I can say that. What I can tell you is:

I’m working on the Twelfth Doctor comic until the end of year three (issue #3.13) at least – which will be the middle of next year. Then… who knows?

I have other Titan projects on the go right now, as well, but I cannot breathe a word of them. I am sure all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

I am contributing a story to a forthcoming BBC Book. Can’t say much more right now…

I am also working on my first original IP – which I mentioned previously. This will be announced soon and although I have done a lot of work on it already, the actual scriptwriting will begin in earnest this Autumn/Fall for release next year.

I am working on a book idea for a famous character as well as pitching for some other, very famous, genre franchises.

Finally, I have a whole load of pitches out there in TV, comic and audio land. So we’ll see what happens. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it is never to count any chickens that haven’t yet been coaxed from the egg!

How can our readers find out more about you and your work?

I have a website, which has all my latest news, blogs, etc as well as a bit about me and stuff I have done in the past (books, TV, etc). I am also on Twitter and have a pro page on Facebook . Come find me and we can chat!

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us!

A pleasure – if a long one! Oh-er, Matron.

❉ ‘Doctor Who: Myths & Legends’ by Richard Dinnick is out now from BBC Books, RRP £12.99. Buy it here.

❉ Richard will be at Forbidden Planet Cambridge on Saturday 2 September, 1:00 – 2:00 pm signing copies of Doctor Who: The Last Action Figure (San Diego ComicCon 2017 Exclusive) that will be on sale there.

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